Italian national coach Davide Cassini is optimistic that Italian cycling can have a successful season in 2015, despite it financial woes and years of doping scandals, predicting that an Italian rider will finally win a major one-day Classic, six years after Damiano Cunego won Il Lombardia.
Cassani travelled to Argentina with an Italian national team on Thursday which will ride the Tour de San Luis. He is also the national team co-ordinator, delegating management of the other disciplines to a series of different coaches.
Italy only has Lampre-Merida in the 2015 WorldTour, with other teams struggling to find sponsors and retain their talented riders. Many of the best Italian riders and team staff have joined WorldTour teams around the world, confirming that Italy still produces talent but does not have the teams and races to retain them.
“We shouldn't just look at the numbers. Cycling has changed, it's globalised. There are lot of good (Italian) riders and staff in teams all over the world,” Cassani argued in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We don't have sponsors who can invest 20 million Euro to sponsor a team but our goal should be to strengthen the grass roots of our sport. If we can have five Professional Continental teams and 10 Continental teams were fine, as long as they're good teams that pay their riders and teach them how to be good riders. The amateur squads have to feed into the Continental teams and not focus just on the number of regional races they win. Wins should be weighed for their value, not counted.”
Vincenzo Nibali's victory at the Tour de France, the first since Marco Pantani in 1998, helped cover the cracks in Italian cycling and the loss of much of a generation due to a series of doping scandals. Cassani is optimistic that the next generation of young riders can emerge in 2015.
“In 2014, we won the Tour de France with Nibali and discovered Aru who was third in the Giro d'Italia and fifth in the Vuelta. We did well in the Grand Tours,” Cassani said.
“I don't know if Nibali will win the Tour again because the route seems to suit [Nairo] Quintana. The Tour has changed Nibali's life. If he's managed to digest his success, he could win again. It depends if he is still hungry. I expect him to show himself at Milan-San Remo and especially at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, which is his first big objective of the season.
“Aru might struggle against Contador at the Giro because there's also a 60km time trial. But just think, five years ago, he was still racing cyclo-cross in Sardinia. He's got to aim for the podium.
“I think 2015 will be the year we win a big Classic. Finding the right rider isn't easy but we've got lots of young riders coming through such as Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bardiani-CSF). We can be a contender in the Classics with them.”
Think of 2016, Rio and beyond
Cassani is already thinking about the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and beyond. He intends to take Nibali, Aru and time triallist Adriano Malori to Rio for the pre-olympic race on August 16. He hopes young neo-pro sprinter Jakub Mareczko can take on Mark Cavendish in the sprints at the Tour de San Luis and is closely following the careers of other young Italian riders.
“The young riders to watch for include Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin) while his teammate Davide Villella could be a big surprise in the one-day races. Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida) is fast too, he reminds me of Oscar Freire. There's also (Mattia) Cattaneo at Lampre-Merida and I really hope that Moreno Moser has cleared up what he wants to do in his future.”
Cassani revealed he as huge admiration for both Alberto Contador and Bradley Wiggins. He hopes his riders can follow their example.
“I like riders who put their personal ambitions ahead of money,” he said. “They challenge themselves and I think that's great. It means they're doing it for themselves. For example, Wiggins has won the Tour but now wants to win Paris-Roubaix and go for the Hour Record before switching to the track. He's shown everyone that he really loves cycling.”